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USM Junior Cathy Wise Awarded the Prestigious Environmental Protection Agency Greater Research Opportunities Fellowship

Cathy Wise, a University of Southern Maine junior and Cape Elizabeth native, was recently awarded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Greater Research Opportunities Undergraduate Fellowship, available to bachelor level students in environmentally related fields of study. As an EPA GRO Fellow, Cathy will receive tuition support for her junior and senior years of undergraduate study. She will also receive an internship at her choice of one of the many EPA facilities around the country, during the summer between her junior and senior years. The fellowship provides up to $48,900 for the two-year period of academic support and the summer internship.

Cathy spent the summers of 2010 and 2011 on a research expedition, crisscrossing the Gulf of Mexico in a sailboat. The University of Southern Maine and the Ocean Alliance partnered to fund the trip to collect cell samples from sperm whales, in an attempt to determine long-term effects of the Gulf Oil Disaster. The research, lead by Cathy’s father Dr. John Wise, is an effort to determine the impact of the spill on whales and the ecosystem that supports them. Their focus is now back to the lab at USM, where they hope to generate preliminary findings.

When asked about the eventual outcome of their research, Cathy was confident that their research will help determine long-term effects of the spill and the subsequent chemical disbursements. Currently, there are no laws to regulate the appropriate actions for managing this kind of disaster. As Cathy pointed out, Maine, her lifelong home, is a throughway for tankers delivering oil to Canada and vulnerable to a spill.

In 2010, 34 undergraduates across the country were awarded the EPA GRO Fellowship. Although the numbers for 2011 have yet to be released, Cathy faced stiff competition from other USM students, including her brother. Luckily, there’s camaraderie in the Wise family and Cathy knows there were no hard feelings. “Everyone was really happy for me!”

The fellowship will allow Cathy to continue her sperm whale cell research and help her attain her eventual goal of graduate school and a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine. Cathy is a three-year starter on the USM women's soccer team, and has also excelled on the pitch. As a forward, she was the team's second leading scorer in each of her first two seasons (2009 and 2010), and through five matches this season leads the team in scoring.  Cathy also has been recognized by the Department of Athletics for her strong academic performance in the classroom with the William Wise Scholar-Athlete Award. In addition to her coursework, her research, and the soccer team, Cathy is an active member of the outdoor adventure club.